What Is Montessori? At Home Philosophy + Education Method

what is montessori

If you've heard the word “Montessori” in relation to education or parenting and are still wondering, “what is montessori?” you're in the right place! In this post, you'll learn precisely what Montessori is, ways to incorporate montessori at home, what to expect from a montessori classroom/school, and more!

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Montessori has been a buzzword in child development and education since its inception in the 1900s. The Montessori method is taught all across the world in various capacities; with many parents adapting its principles and ideologies at home!

Some parents and schools choose to closely follow Montessori teachings. Others weave Montessori principles and techniques into their existing curricula.

The Montessori method is a blend of strict teacher training and instructional strategies, but in a very child-centered learning environment. While Montessori teachers are bound to the guidelines for instruction, students have the freedom to learn at their own, age-appropriate pace.

While the training methods for certified Montessori teachers are strict, the classroom environment is quite different than what comes to mind traditionally – and likely seems the opposite of strict in many ways…

What Exactly is Montessori?

Montessori is a very specific methodology for instruction and learning. The foundation of Montessori education is based on students learning through particular work, created to encourage hands-on knowledge and a deeper understanding of the material. It engages all of the senses uniquely, while fostering a love of learning in the child.

Montessori teachers are responsible for creating a classroom environment with a specific set of “montessori materials” that are meant to pique students' curiosity, letting children be in control of their own learning. 

Students are exposed to different learning areas, specifically organized and accessible for other age groups. Practical life skills are an essential part of Montessori education, along with particular academics.

Unlike traditional classrooms where the teacher stands upfront, teaching the same thing to everyone. A Montessori teachers acts more as a guide, specifically trained to enhance students' learning as they show interest in different content. There is no teacher-led instruction in Montessori education.

For example, students work on fine motor skills by sweeping beans on a tray with materials that are small enough to fit in their hands. If students are ready to work on number concepts, the adult can step in and use this activity as an incidental teaching moment. I remember my montessori teacher doing this with me as a preschooler. It was very gentle and as I swept the beans, she'd count out loud. As I showed more interest, she had me sort the beans into different containers to understand addition.

Where did the Term “Montessori” Come From?

The Montessori method was developed by Maria Montessori. She was a psychiatrist with a strong interest in education, committed to creating a way for children to learn and thrive in their environment, no matter where they were developmentally. 

Her goals focused on letting students learn at their own pace, with teachers being more of a guide for in-depth exploration. Montessori took a very hands-on approach to learning and instruction back in the early 1900s, and her methods are still very relevant today both in the classroom and at home.

Maria Montessori opened a school in her native Rome, where she experimented with different learning techniques to see which ones were most beneficial to her children of different ages and abilities. Once she found what she believed to be the perfect formula for instruction and learning, Montessori founded the Association Montessori Internationale. Schools that use this form of instruction must adhere to the guidelines and standards that Maria herself created. 

Fundamentals of Montessori

After Maria Montessori observed children and began implementing her teaching methods, others started following her principles, and the entire Montessori Movement was set in motion. The basics of Montessori education are still deeply rooted in those ideas created by Maria Montessori. 

In fact, they've really changed very little. Instead, the basics have just been adapted to fit today's world but still encompass the simplicity that Montessori herself intended.

Up next are the fundamentals that Montessori instructors rely on in their instruction. These are the building blocks of Montessori are consistent throughout any educational facilities that use the Montessori name.

Students Learn with Peers of Different Ages

Part of what makes a Montessori classroom unique is the diverse age group. Most of the time, students are in the same classroom for about three years, with other children in that same age group. So, children ages three to six might be in one classroom, while older students from six to nine might be in another. 

However, the age groups aren't set in stone. The idea is that children can learn from one another, so it's the mixed age group that's key, not necessarily the age itself. Children are seen as instructors too, so it's not uncommon to see an older student helping out a younger one. 

A Happy Medium of Rules and Freedom

A Montessori classroom environment embraces the idea of students having a lot of freedom, within reason. The environment itself is incredibly structured, so students feel comfortable and secure. But once they've established the classroom's straightforward rules, students have a lot of freedom to learn on their own, with as much teacher guidance as they need. 

Hands-On Learning

Each and every material in a Montessori classroom has a specific use and purpose. When a child is interested in one of the materials, the instructor will show the child how to use it properly. The activities are meant to give the children the means to explore and create an understanding on a different level that they can connect with, rather than a teacher simply telling them the way. 

Students are given lengthy periods during their school day to check out various works and return to ones they've already experienced. This allows those students to break out of their comfort zone on their own terms without being forced. The uninterrupted work periods work well for independent learners, while other students might require more direction and guidance. 

Importance of Practical Life and Sensory Learning

In a traditional classroom, there's much emphasis put on academics and teacher-led instruction. Sensory learning and practical life skills are often put on the backburner. In a Montessori classroom, these elements are at the forefront of the curriculum. The idea is that children learn through play and that play is their work!

The intent here is to allow children to gain a firm foundation before they're pushed to learn something they might not be ready for developmentally. Students are encouraged to learn through all of their senses to develop those deeper connections, preparing the way for future learning.

Here are some examples of practical life and sensory learning activities you might see in a Montessori classroom:

  • Handwashing
  • Sewing or lacing
  • Using tweezers to pick up small objects (like beans)
  • Pouring water from different containers

Teaching Methods

As we've mentioned, the teacher in a Montessori classroom is meant to be the guide, or aid, to help navigate the student throughout their learning journey.

Teachers are trained in this specific methodology. But the initiative to learn becomes the student's responsibility. Teachers are also responsible for creating an environment that sticks to the Montessori outline. 

For this reason, many parents are interested in Montessori at home, as is provides tips and structure for creating an environment that fosters a love of lifelong learning, independence, self esteem, and so much more. Parents already act as a guide or aid to their children, the Montessori Method just provides a little structure/guidance to the parent.

There are six requirements of a Montessori environment, and the teacher is responsible for making sure these are met in the classroom. Many parents who choose to practice Montessori at home, incorporate these as well.

A Montessori classroom / playroom/ bedroom / home must:

  • Promote social interaction
  • Allow access to nature and real-life experiences
  • Be structured 
  • But also encourage independent learning
  • Create intellectual guidance
  • Be aesthetically pleasing 

Tailored Curriculum

A huge difference that you'll notice in Montessori programs is that each child is learning at his or her own pace. It's relatively common to have a classroom full of students, each working on a different skill.

This is because the curriculum is geared toward each individual students' learning style and what they're developmentally prepared to take on at the moment. The tailored curriculum relies on students to learn on a continuum that's dictated by their own development rather than everyone working on the same thing and students being forced to work on certain skills just for the sake of “learning.”

Maria Montessori found that when pushed to learn before they were ready, students often failed to reach their potential in that specific area or never developed a complete understanding of the content. 

Final Thoughts

This is clearly a very brief rundown of Montessori education, a very complex learning and instruction method. Although it's very different than what you might see in a typical classroom, the Montessori method is equally effective for many students. 

Overall, Montessori programs are meant to provide students with hands-on experiences to build their own connections. This promotes children to develop a more profound sense of learning, rather than just surface-level skill development. 

Montessori Toys At Home:

Looking to get started with Montessori At Home? Check out my Lovevery Play Kit Reviews! They're a montessori inspired toy subscription service for 0-3 years old and make life so easy!